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Some thoughts on the music of Havergal Brian,


I was intrigued by the call of the Havergal Brian Society for recommendations on which Brian works to promote and which to present first to new audiences and I herewith offer my feelings on the matter. I will not deny that these recommendations are based on my subjective opinions of the Brian works that I know -- I do not claim that this knowledge is all-encompassing nor am I attempting here to assess the best or worst of his output. My own first exposure to Brian was on an old BBC Music Showcase broadcast in which Antony Hopkins presented Symphony No 12. I remember being intrigued by the biography and music that he (Hopkins) offered and wanted to know and hear more. When I mention Brian's name to the classical music enthusiasts that I know they link it only to ('oh! no!') the Gothic if they recognize it at all.

It is my unwavering belief that accessibility lies with the listener rather than with the composer -- 'will I let this in?' is the former's decision. Furthermore, I do not confuse 'I don't like it' with 'it isn't accessible', and with that in mind have picked out those works I think would most likely enthrall a new listener and entice him to explore further.

From the miscellaneous orchestral works I would suggest the Festal Dance and the Tinker's Wedding overture as the most likely to succeed with those new to Brian's music. They are short enough that reluctant concert producers may let them through and they could speak directly to people who listen to little other than John Williams film scores (and note that this is not a slam against Williams or his listeners). The Jolly Miller overture could also work as a curtain raiser and expose listeners to some characteristically Brianic idiosyncracies in an approachable context. I would recommend against starting out with In Memoriam, For Valour, Dr Merryheart, and the Three-Blind-Mice variations -- they are simply not top-drawer or characteristic Brian and would more likely leave audiences thirsting for authentic Elgar, Strauss, and Sibelius rather than for more Havergal Brian.

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Copyright © 26 January 2003 Aaron J Rabushka, Fort Worth, Texas, USA


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